Metal Detecting for Beginners
Metal detecting is a hobby that comes with rewards. After all, what’s not to like about the idea of searching for buried treasure? There’s something about metal detecting that combines the futuristic (waving around a hovering, noise-making implement for seeing buried metal) and the historic (digging up artifacts that have become submerged by the earth). Indeed, metal detecting can be a great activity for a couple or a small group – or just someone who enjoys their own company.
Why do it?
One of the first key questions to ask is why metal detect? After all, the chances of finding that life-changing piece of buried treasure are extremely slim, so all you’re really doing is investing time and money in collecting metal trash from under the ground.
However, for those that love metal detecting, the reality is different from the quest for buried treasure – instead, the thrill is in the search and the love of history.
Besides that, there are numerous elements to metal detecting that are enjoyable:
Enjoyment of experiencing history first-hand
Using a metal detector means that you are at the front-line of historical research. Everything you excavate was placed there by someone.
It seems obvious, but if you find a nineteenth-century coin, the chances are that it was dropped by someone in the nineteenth century. The last person to touch that coin lived centuries before you. There’s the inherent thrill of connecting with the past that comes from metal detecting.
Even if you don’t find a treasure trove of Anglo-Saxon gold or an Incan city, you can still make money from your finds. Rare coin dealers regularly make purchases from metal detecting enthusiasts, so there is always the possibility of your hobby paying for itself.
The joy of collecting
Whatever your interest in history, there is a pride in building a collection. If you are into old coins, for example, there are plenty of opportunities to build an impressive collection.
Once you start to build your collection, you can expand it by exploring new areas. And you can feel satisfied in the knowledge that most of your finds would have been lost were it not for you.
How to start
The hardest step to take when metal detecting is the first one. It can be extremely daunting to get started – after all, there’s so much equipment out there at various different levels of pricing.
Furthermore, it’s difficult to know literally where to start – should you just head down to the beach or into the woods and start marching around? What if you find something in the park? Are you allowed to dig it up? And do you get to keep it? All of these are valid questions and ones we will answer in the course of this guide.
If you want to explore metal detecting, you will need to buy a metal detector. According to SmarterHobby, the three tiers of a metal detector are:
If you still can’t take the plunge, look to see if there are metal detecting groups you can join.
Many of these will have members that can advise on getting started, which metal detectors work in your area, and some may even let you borrow a metal detector (or come with you and you can work together). This will give you an insight into the hobby and help you get a sense of whether you want to spend the money.
Where to do it?
Naturally, it is critical that the location you are metal detecting is either a public space or your own private property. In some states, there are specific areas designated for metal detecting, so be sure to check with your state’s Forests, Parks and Recreation department before you begin.
The use of metal detectors must never conflict with other visitors to department lands or disturb lawn spaces, rare or delicate plant or animal habitats, or sensitive archeological areas. In areas of obvious historical significance, metal detecting is most certainly not allowed.
Public parks owned by the state or the federal government are usually off-limits to metal detecting, so be sure to check your local regulations online.
You should work on the basis that you need an explicit ‘yes’ for metal detecting to be allowed. Don’t assume it’s permitted. Some states, such as Vermont, require permission from authorized personnel before using a metal detector. With private land, it’s always better to get written permission.
Beaches are some of the most popular places to metal detect, owing to the fact that sand is easy to dig in, and contains fewer elements that confuse detectors.
Furthermore, it’s a place where lots of items are dropped, or can be washed ashore. Generally, most beaches are open to metal detecting, as long as they are not a state/federal park or some sort of nature sanctuary.
Again, you should always check with the governing authority to see if metal detecting is permitted, although generally, beaches are a safe option and a great starting place for beginners.
Indeed, starting in your own basement is one of the best ways to learn about metal detecting. Search around the perimeter of your home’s foundation or near cracks in the foundation and see what you can find.
Ethics and Code of Conduct
As stated above, it is critical when metal detecting to follow an ethical code. The primary reason for doing so is that you ensure that others are allowed to enjoy the hobby as much as you do.
If you trespass or leave a site in disarray, people will think less of metal detecting as a hobby and may take steps to prevent others from being able to access the spot. As a price for being part of a community, one must ensure that the community’s values are upheld.
Digging responsibly often involves simply sticking to the local regulations.
However, this can be trickier than it sounds, as some jurisdictions have a variety of laws applying to very specific areas.
For example, in Michigan, metal detecting is allowed in every part of five of the state parks, but only in very specific, predefined areas of some other state parks. In other Michigan state parks, metal detecting is strictly prohibited.
Finally, in all state parks, you must show anything you dig up to state park employees, who may retain the items pending further investigation.
In Vermont, any recovered items that have historical or archeological significance must be given immediately to authorized personnel as they are the property of Vermont.
These examples demonstrate the complexity of digging laws.
How to dig
‘How to dig’ is probably not a question you’ve thought about before considering metal detecting. However, there is an art of digging correctly when it comes to metal detecting.
Common rules for digging allow for digging at a depth no deeper than 3 inches and require that all disturbed areas be restored to their original condition.
You should always use a small hand tool to excavate unless you have an area over two acres to dig up.
Metal detecting diggers are small, dagger-style objects, with a serrated side and a smooth side. The former is for cutting through roots and other tough objects.
Transporting and cleaning
Once you have your object, you’ll need to transport it. Most metal detecting bags or pouches have two pockets – one for the valuable items you find, and one for the trash you intend to take home with you at the end of the dig.
As well as that, bring a small sandwich bag filled with cotton balls. This will help you in case you find something truly valuable that you don’t want to throw in with your other finds for fear it will become damaged.
When you get home, you can clean your objects. Before you do that, make sure you are 100% certain of what it is. Some coin collectors believe cleaning diminishes the value, so if in doubt, get it appraised before cleaning.
However, if you’re not going to sell the item, use a rock tumbler or a small cup of warm water to help with the cleaning process.
Overall, metal detecting is a simple, idyllic pastime, and you can easily pass hours just looking for objects.
As long as you are courteous and respectful of other people and their property, metal detecting can be a rewarding hobby, with no upper or lower age limit. You simply never know what you might find!
Sources and Further Reading